Code of Ethics for Medical Interpreters

Interpreting is not just about conveying a message from the source language to the target language, it also involves following codes established by the profession. There are different sets of ethics code provided by different interpreting groups, but they are generally similar. Below is a summary of the National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare’s (NSIHC) code of ethics, which can also be found on their website

What are ethics? Ethics is a set of principles or values that govern the conduct of members of a profession. It provides guidelines for making judgments about what is acceptable and recommended behavior.

The code of ethics is based on three core values: beneficence, fidelity, and respect for importance of cultures and cultural difference.

     Beneficence. In healthcare interpreting, the patient’s (and his or her family’s) health and well-being is our goal. This goal is shared by the healthcare team, the patient, as well as the interpreter. We all want the patient to get better.

     Fidelity. It is our obligation as interpreter to stay loyal and faithful to the original message conveyed by the patient and the practitioner. When rendering the messages into the target language, our aim is to interpret everything that is said, without distorting the message by making additions or omissions.

     Respect for importance of cultures and cultural difference. Cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication. It is important that interpreters are knowledgeable about the culture of the source and target language.

The nine code of ethics in NISCH are:

     1. Confidentiality. Interpreters need to treat all information during an encounter confidential within the treating team, which includes all professionals within one treatment facility who provide medical care to the patient.

     2. Accuracy and Completeness within Cultural Frameworks. Interpreters need to deliver the complete package. In other words, they should strive to render the message accurately by conveying not only the meaning of the message, but also the spirit (emotion, tone, and gestures) that came with the message, taking into account the message’s cultural context. Interpreters must not omit from, add to, or distort the speaker’s message; even offensive remarks and gestures, body language, and tone of voice must be interpreted. Interpreting does not mean rendering each word, but rendering the meaning of the message.

     3. Impartiality. Maintaining good customer service to both patient and provider is important for a successful professional relationship. An interpreter is simply a conduit, so interpreters should refrain from counseling, advising, or projecting personal biases or beliefs. They should also avoid judging the content of the message of the parties in the interaction; they should keep their values to themselves. Because one’s tone of voice, inflection, and facial expressions can show bias without one’s knowledge, interpreters should take note of their own voices and make sure they are putting emphasis only on words that were emphasized on in the original message.

An interpreter should avoid potential conflicts of interests is at all possible. Interpreting for family members, for example, is highly discouraged as the interpreter may unintentionally show his or her bias opinions, which can interrupt the medical interview.

     4. Professional Boundaries. Developing professional rapport with a patient is acceptable and encouraged  but interpreters should try to avoid personal involvement with their clients, such as building friendships with clients. Interpreters should also avoid taking on other roles while they are interpreting to avoid potential conflicts of interest. For example, an interpreter who is also a nurse should not provide medical recommendations while with the patient; in a situation like this, an interpreter should only focus on acting as a conduit and not as a medical professional.

     5. Cultural Competence. Culture is a central factor in all communication and the understanding of culture is necessary for accurate interpretations. While interpreters are not expected to possess expertise in all cultural nuances, they should strive to continually develop awareness cultural competence in the target and source language cultures, including biomedical cultures.

     6. Trust and Respect. Treat all parties with respect, using proper greetings and titles applicable to specific cultures. Interpreters should also respect the autonomy and expertise of all parties in an encounter.

     7. Advocacy. Advocacy is understood as action taken on behalf of an individual that goes beyond the facilitation of communication, with the intention of supporting good health outcomes. When a patient’s health, well-being, or dignity is at risk, the interpreter may be justified to act as an advocate. Advocating actions should be undertaken only after careful and thoughtful analysis of the situation, and only when other less intrusive actions have not resolved the problem.

     8. Professional Development. Language acquisition and maintenance is a continual process. Just because an interpreter has a lot of experience doesn’t mean there isn’t more to learn. Interpreters should strive to continually further their knowledge in the field/subject matters, language skills, and interpreting skills. They should also strive to further understand the socio-cultural context of the population they serve. Interpreters should also serve as mentors to help those in the same field and participate in professional activities that contribute to the development of the profession.

     9. Professionalism. A good interpreter acts professionally. This includes but is not limited to:
– disclosing skill limitations
– preparing for all assignments and arriving on time
– monitoring his or her own performance and behavior
– does not in any way exploit the vulnerability of the patient (for example, doesn’t accept gifts from patients)

Other code of ethics for medical interpreters can be found:
IMIA Code of Ethics-
Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) –

Heartland Alliance Cross-Cultural Interpreters training 10/8/2011
NCIHC Code of Ethics


2 thoughts on “Code of Ethics for Medical Interpreters

  1. A very nice article, we are also from the Industry wherein we require Translators/Interpreters, one has to follow some code of ethics which you have clearly mentioned in your post,
    For more information please visit or email us at you can also follow us at LinkedIn: Follow us on Twitter:!/MedSurgeIndia or add us on Skype: dushyantmagu

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